In today’s post, I’m going to talk about something uncomfortable. I just want to take a couple of minutes to talk about cows. I love cows. I love their faces, their curiosity, their intelligence, their kindness, their big gentle eyes and their funny little noses… I also like steak. However, I don’t like steak enough to help fund an industry I find abhorrent. I’m not a sob-story kind of person – I’m not trying to guilt anyone into not eating meat, but what I do want to do is use some facts and figures about waste where I can, and to raise awareness of how many animals are unnecessarily slaughtered each year, and how much waste is produced by their bodies being thrown in the bin uneaten.
I promise this isn’t going to turn into an animal rights sermon, and there aren’t any pictures of cows being mistreated in this post, but I want to use some numbers to make a point.
2.6 million cattle are slaughtered each year in the UK. According to this newspaper article, UK householders throw out 34,000* tonnes of beef each year. For each cow slaughtered, only about 40% of their bodies will turn up on the shelf. In order to produce the 34,000 tonnes of meat that ends up in the trash, 77,273 cows will have been slaughtered.
Now, I know it’s hard to imagine what that many cows even looks like, so I’ve done some maths (which was incredibly painful for my brain) to help put this into a scale that’s relatable.
If you took those cows and stood them nose to tail**, the line would be 124 miles long and, as the crow flies, they would go half way up the country – or more specifically, from Waterloo station to a place called Sotby, which is just above Lincoln.
Sad, right? What’s even sadder is that this is just cows, and what ends up in the bin, uneaten, at home – it doesn’t include what gets binned during the slaughter and packing process, or what restaurants throw out or what the supermarkets throw away when things have reached their sell by date (not even their use by date), or what this would look like multiplied across all the different animals and animal-based products available to us.
It is absolutely mind boggling that this much life means so little to us, and how much harm we inflict on others
I’m not even going to try to talk about the resources it takes to raise, process and package a cow, and how much of that creates waste, because my ability to do maths only gets me so far before my brain starts to melt.
By intensively farming poultry, livestock and fish, the food industry (among other things like fossil fuel consumption), is making the ice caps melt, the atmosphere has a whopping great hole in it, the air is polluted, the water is poisoned, the seas are emptying, the rainforest is disappearing, and at the rate we’re going our legacy to our great grandchildren will be a mountain of garbage and a broken ecosystem – all largely as a result of producing far more than we can possibly consume; and we have the power to change this.
We have to wonder how far in denial we are about certain things, and start taking responsibility as individuals for our own personal impact on the way the world is heading.
I’m not joking about the legacy to our children being a mountain of garbage – there are already entire islands of rubbish floating in the Pacific Gyre.
I’ve been watching a lot of Ted Talks on Youtube lately and documentaries on Netflix, about the way we are brought up to believe our lives should be, the things we should aspire to have, the way we distance ourselves from things we find upsetting and uncomfortable rather than facing them head-on – for example, many children are not able to make the connection between a chicken nugget and an actual chicken despite the clue being in the name- and the way we have become resigned to accepting the decisions of our-of-touch politicians who together define the way in which the mechanics of the world operate – from food production to fast fashion; and how the unprecedented abundance and opportunity that is available to us now has made us more miserable and fearful than ever.
There is a real disconnect in the world between what we see on the surface and what goes on in the background; and the lengths people go to to hide the disturbing and upsetting realities from each other and ourselves is extraordinary, because of course, we want to be happy and make other people happy, often regardless of the truth and regardless of the cost.
A huge shift is needed in society to make things better – we cannot just delegate responsibility to politicians and hope for the best – we have to take responsibility for our own actions, our own decisions, and our own education. In the face of big changes people often freeze up and go ‘aaah! I can’t do it!’ or ‘I don’t want to – it’s too difficult!!’. Change doesn’t need to be scary or difficult – especially when it comes to the environment – Changes don’t have to mean uprooting your whole way of life and braiding your armpit hair – they can be as simple as swapping one thing out for a less harmful alternative. You’re not losing anything – if you like having bathroom cleaner or chapstick, or steak – nobody is stopping you from having those things, but do a little research on the suppliers you use, their ethics and their environmental impact, talk to them on twitter, and then decide which one is a better, less harmful option.
* This article is a year old. There is another article from the Institute of Food Research which was undertaken in 2007-2008 which states 37,000 tonnes of beef, which is even worse! I hope the number stated in the Guardian article is a sign of improvement.
** A typical dairy cow is 102 inches – I couldn’t really find much in terms of size of beef cattle because they tend to be measured by weight, whereas dairy cows need stalls built to accommodate them so this information was quite easy to find. I doubt there is a great deal of difference between the breeds in length